MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A former star wrestler from Janesville is making big moves off the mat. Daniel Jackson is starting his own professional wrestling league. Not the kind of wrestling you see with “WWE Raw” but the kind you see in the Olympics.
For Jackson, wrestling is everything. “It kind of gave me some purpose in life,” he said. Now he wants to make sure athletes have a way to compete and make money after college.
“(After college) they can coach the sport or they can go into MMA, but not every wrestler wants to get punched and kicked in the face,” Jackson said with a laugh.
The Janesville native was the head coach at Parker High School for five years. He starred at his Alma mater in the early 2000’s. He also competed at one of the top collegiate programs in the country -- the University of Minnesota.
“I owe a lot of my success to my coach in college, J. Robinson,” he said. “He kind of instilled in me what hard work is.”
He’s focusing that hard work by turning his passion into a profession. “I’m taking a leap of faith. It’s a good leap of faith and I’m ready to take that opportunity,” he said.
Jackson started American Prostyle Wrestling LLC, a professional wrestling league that will feature eight teams comprised of former collegiate wrestlers. Jackson says he has former NCAA Division I champions committed to wrestling in the league as well as multiple All-Americans from across three NCAA divisions.
“I think everyone is trying a different model and none of the models have worked based on the finances,” said UW head wrestling coach Chris Bono.
Bono says he’s seen professional leagues come and go before. He believes the problem has been pinning down a successful business model. But he hopes Jackson’s new league is the exception.
“I’m excited to see it. I’ll support anything that twill help our guys get to be world and Olympic champions,” said Bono. “We are always looking for the one that can take off and sustain it.”
“I think it will be a tough sell but there is a niche market out there,” said Parker head wrestling coach and the school’s only ever state champion, Shane Fleming.” There’s enough people out there that love the sport of wrestling.”
Fleming believes if the league catches on, it will do wonders for the sport.
“It gives the kids an outlet because there isn’t one. When you get done with college, you’re basically done wrestling.”
The eight teams include the Wisconsin Rowdy Robins, Iowa Brawling Eagles, Missouri Raging Honey Bees, Ohio Spotted Salamanders, Pennsylvania Great Danes, Illinois Tenacious Fluorites, Minnesota Gold Monarchs, and Nebraska Mighty Cottonwoods.
“I tried to pick the hotspots of wrestling, so to speak,” said Jackson.
Each team will have 10 wrestlers so there are 10 different weight classes. Every team will gather once a month and go head to head in what’s called a dual match. Each dual match a team wins, the will be awarded $25,000 to split amongst themselves.
Jackson says he wants this new pro league to be all inclusive. That’s why five of the weight classes will be for men and five will be for women. Jackson says his 4-year-old twins inspired him to make sure women would be included.
“I have one boy and one girl and I never want to have to tell the boy he can pursue something and tell the girl she has to wait. So, I wanted it to be an equal opportunity right out the gate,” said Jackson.
Jackson knows the sport of wrestling isn’t for everyone. But he’s willing to take a shot for the sport he loves.
“This sport beats you up, whether you win or lose,” he said. “It’s taxing on your body, it’s taxing on your soul, but to be able to come back and to be able to do it day after day, that builds some character,”
All matches will be held in Oshkosh at the brand new Menominee Nation Arena.
The first match is scheduled for next July. Jackson says sponsorships and online streaming subscriptions are paying for the prizes.
Jackson needs 80 wrestlers to commit to the league. A draft will be held in May to determine the teams.
The weight classes will be 110, 125, 140, 155, and 170 pounds for women. The men will wrestle at 135, 160, 185, 210, and 295 pounds.
For more information, visit https://apswrestling.com/